When I was in middle school, specifically 7th grade, my group of lunchtime friends included a girl named Kelsey Tennant. We weren’t particularly close, but her bright eyes and sharp wit made her a welcome addition to the sass masters I sat with at the lunch table. After 7th grade, Kelsey and I did not keep in touch in any meaningful capacity.
In March 2017, I found out over social media that Kelsey had been strangled to death in her apartment by a man who had broken in. She was nineteen. The thing that stuck in my mind the most was how physically small Kelsey was. Her aggressor could have easily been twice her size. He could have easily gotten away without resorting to murder. It all seemed needless.
I have not been a stranger to death throughout my life. I have lost several family members and friends to sickness, addiction, murder, and accidents. It can loom over me. I often think of the people outside of my personal social circle who have been lost, such as the five NSU students who died in a car crash and the innocent people gunned down on the streets of Vegas. It is a lot to live on this earth, and it is easy to feel powerless to be a force for good.
And yet. And yet.
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy- meditate on these things.” – Philippians 4:8
In my profile on the Wesley’s website, I list the simple phrase “choose joy” as advice I would pass on to fellow students. I feel like this phrase is not always popular, in the implication that choosing joy is as simple as choosing joy, that those who suffer depression cannot flip a switch on their mental health and “get better”. I agree with that sentiment.
But that is also not what I mean when I say “choose joy”, because I believe that joy is different from happiness, not unlike how depression is not sadness, but rather the lack of feeling. Happiness and sadness, they are emotions; they come and go and change with the seasons. But joy is something that is in you. And it is in me. When I am feeling it, I feel it course through my veins and swell in my chest and fill my lungs with laughter. That is the idea behind Philippians 4:8. If God is in you, then joy is in you, because God is joy (I think they call that the transitive property in math).
Joy, like so many spiritual concepts, is a muscle. If you do not take care of it, do not exercise it and do not take in the proper things, it becomes weak. I encourage you to find whatever things that are beautiful. Submerge yourself, and your joy will be strong as iron.
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